Case over pat-downs at Bears games goes to court

Updated: July 21, 2006, 8:00 PM ET
Associated Press

CHICAGO -- A clash between the Chicago Bears and the Chicago Park District over whether police should conduct pat-down searches of fans as they arrive for games at Soldier Field ended up in federal court Friday.

The Park District said in a civil lawsuit that Chicago police believe pat-down searches at NFL games would violate the Constitution's 4th Amendment barring unreasonable searches and seizures.

Individuals can be searched only if there is "an individualized suspicion of wrongdoing," according to the Park District's complaint.

"This stringent requirement applies to public gatherings at venues owned and operated by government entities, such as Soldier Field," it said. It asked U.S. District Judge Blanche M. Manning to order the Bears to drop the planned pat-down searches.

Bears spokesman Scott Hagel said the team had yet to see the suit and therefore couldn't comment on it. But he said the National Football League has adopted a policy calling for pat-downs as a security measure.

Hagel said a private security firm hired by the Bears conducted pat-downs at the last game of the 2005 regular season and in the playoff game.

"Everything went well," he said.

The Park District said the Bears have sought to settle the issue through arbitration.

But it said courts already have held that "a general fear and threat of terrorism after 9/11 which the Bears cite in their demand for arbitration ... has not decreased the 4th Amendment's broad protections which apply to large gatherings of citizens at public venues."

A Florida court recently agreed with the position of the Chicago police that "it is a violation of the 4th Amendment for a municipal corporation to pay for and conduct pat-down searches at Raymond James Stadium where the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers play home games."

That suit was brought by a Buccaneers season ticket holder, the Park District's complaint said.

The Chicago suit said that under the NFL's pat-down procedures, fans wearing zippered or buttoned outer garments would have to open them and hold them away from their bodies while police felt for foreign objects.

Blankets would have to be checked "by squeezing thoroughly," it said. Fans would be asked to extend their arms to the side with palms up and gloves removed. The rules say the officer should then "visually inspect the wrists and palms for switches, wires or push button devices," it said.

Torsos and bulging pockets should also be patted or rubbed but no skin on skin contact should take place, the suit quoted the policy as saying.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press